A shot in the dark: Vaccine seekers in COVID-ravaged Peel Region rejoice at chance to get overnight jabs

News Apr 30, 2021 by Maria Sarrouh Toronto Star

Security guard Chris Sokoloski spent hours trying to book a daytime vaccine appointment at four different pharmacies this week. Unsuccessful, frustrated and worried about the high COVID-19 case counts in Peel, he turned to the recently launched overnight clinics, lining up outside a Mississauga Shoppers Drug Mart at 1:15 a.m. Thursday. An hour later, he was vaccinated.

Sokoloski was one of 75 people who stood in the dark in the chilly April drizzle outside the pharmacy on Hurontario Street, some making small-talk with others in the queue as they anxiously awaited their sought-after first jab in a region ravaged by the pandemic.

Home to thousands of at-risk essential workers like Sokoloski, Peel Region continues to be hard-hit by COVID-19, with the highest positivity rate in the province at 14.5 per cent and 901 confirmed new cases as of Thursday. Even as case counts continue to climb, vaccine supply in the region has been inadequate, leaving front-line workers and their loved ones especially vulnerable to the virus.

“I’m just excited to hopefully be safer for work,” said Sokoloski, 45, after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. “I’m doing health screenings all day long for people. My girlfriend’s immunocompromised, so I’m scared of bringing the virus home to her.”

On Thursday, to help alleviate ICU hospitalizations and COVID deaths, the provincial government announced that 50 per cent of upcoming vaccine shipments will be dedicated to hot spot communities during the weeks of May 3 and May 10, bolstering vaccine supply to hard-hit neighbourhoods by over one million doses.

Select pharmacies — eight in Peel and eight in Toronto — will also begin administering the Pfizer vaccine to people aged 55 and up, who can book through the provincial registration system starting Friday. Currently, pharmacies are offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to people 40 and older (born in 1981 or before).

“The way out of the pandemic is vaccines, and the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott at a news conference Thursday.

Dr. Colin Furness, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said the announcement “feels like it’s a day late and a dollar short.” The province should have begun orienting COVID-19 interventions to meet Peel’s unique demographics and needs last April to prevent the “disastrous” result unfolding now, he said.

“I don’t want people thinking, ‘Well they’re getting the lion’s share of vaccines, so everything’s fine. We’ve taken care of them,’” he said, adding the province needs a multi-faceted approach to curb COVID-19 cases, with ramped-up testing and expanded mobile vaccination sites as necessary measures.

Vaccines are not medicine, or treatment, they’re preventative, he said. While the region can expect added vaccines to have a significant impact over the next couple months, cases will not plummet immediately after the introduction of additional vaccine supply, he said.

“You can’t just throw vaccines at a really hard-hit area and expect that to just work on its own. You’ll end up with a lot of sick vaccinated people.”

On April 20, the Ministry of Health announced 20 pharmacies in designated hot spot areas in Peel, York and Toronto would administer vaccines 24/7.

“Offering COVID-19 vaccines 24 hours/seven days per week will reach more Ontarians including essential workers who may be able to access vaccinations during their off-work hours,” a ministry spokesperson said Thursday. The province will expand 24/7 vaccination to additional hot spot areas when the province receives “more vaccine supply from the federal government,” the spokesperson added.

Catherine Thomas, a spokesperson for Loblaw Companies Ltd., said many of the participating Shoppers Drug Mart locations were already 24/7 locations before offering vaccines after midnight, while others have shifted their operations to provide options to patients unable to visit during regular operating hours, including essential workers.

“In an effort to help get shots in arms as quickly as possible, we believe expanding access to 24-hour sites, particularly focused on the communities hardest hit in this wave including north Toronto, Peel and Scarborough, will help protect more Ontarians, quickly,” she said.

Overnight pharmacies offer several advantages, Furness said. For one, people who don’t get time off work, or are not compensated for absences, can use the flexible hours to their benefit.

The queue outside Mohamed Elsabakhawi’s pharmacy in south-central Mississauga began forming at 10 p.m., Wednesday, with early-birds moving to a winding line near the cosmetics section inside the store. On the surface, the pharmacy was calm and organized, but there was no mistaking the late-night shoppers from the late-night vaccine seekers. The latter were anxious, restless and holding back optimism until the minute the jab was in their arm.

Many were essential workers.

As a contract-worker in the film industry, Pierre Branconnier, 49, had trouble booking a vaccine appointment at a convenient time. When a friend told him about overnight walk-ins, the Etobicoke resident made his way to Mississauga for a shot.

“I feel a little bit relieved and I guess anxious,” he said. “I just want to get it done. The project I was working on, we were tested quite often. But just the idea of getting the vaccination is just more of a relief, knowing that I’m more protected.”

Amber Yousaf, 41, drove to the Mississauga pharmacy from her home in Scarborough to snag a jab.

“As front-line workers, the vaccine is very essential and very useful for us,” the delivery house worker said. “I know it might have side effects, but taking it should be a first priority. I’m excited to be more protected.”

Hotel employee, Dora Enachescu, 51, lives around the corner from the pharmacy. As soon as she heard it was offering vaccines, she seized the opportunity. But she says she won’t feel really protected, or like her life is back to normal, until the second dose.

“I want to go outside. I want to take off this freaking mask that’s terrorizing me. I cannot do my manicures or get my makeup done. And I want to breathe normally,” she said. “But I want to live, I don’t want to die. So we stay in line to take a vaccine because every moment, every second of every day, our life is a priority.”

Others drove long distances; Christopher Janz, 51, made the five-hour trek from Ottawa and drove back the same night. The safety the vaccine offers is worth it, he said.

“I’m over 50, so I feel somewhat vulnerable and just wanted to be protected,” Janz said, explaining he couldn’t find a dose in his home city.

After the Twitter account Vaccine Hunters Canada began promoting vaccine availability at Elsabakhawi’s pharmacy, people flocked to the store from across the province. Over 40s came from Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Burlington, Etobicoke and Scarborough among others, he said.

The number of people showing up to be vaccinated between midnight and 8 a.m. has steadily increased since Elsabakhawi began offering overnight jabs at his pharmacy on April 22. The first night, just seven people chose a vaccine overnight. The next night, 25 people were in line. Then 36, then 64, then a record high of 75 on Thursday, the associate owner and pharmacist said. He received 900 doses to start, then an additional 500 a couple days later, totalling about 1,400 doses. By 1 p.m. Thursday, just 90 were left.

“Pharmacies are truly the front door of health care,” he said, adding the introduction of the overnight component means hundreds more people can be vaccinated weekly. “This is the value we can bring, specifically overnight. We can incrementally improve vaccination numbers, which will definitely help alleviate the burden we’re seeing in Peel.”

On the other end of the GTA, Shoppers Drug Mart associate owner and pharmacist Ali Rizwan, began offering shots from midnight to 8 a.m. on April 22, the same day as Elsabakhawi. His pharmacy on Morningside Avenue in Scarborough is delivering between 35 to 40 jabs per night, and will likely run out by Friday, Rizwan said Wednesday.

“It’s very important that we’re able to offer vaccines in an accessible way to all Ontarians,” he said. “On top of that ... time is the limiting factor for us all. We need to get injections into people’s arms as quickly as we can and this allows for that as well.”

A shot in the dark: Vaccine seekers in COVID-ravaged Peel Region rejoice at chance to get overnight jabs

News Apr 30, 2021 by Maria Sarrouh Toronto Star

Security guard Chris Sokoloski spent hours trying to book a daytime vaccine appointment at four different pharmacies this week. Unsuccessful, frustrated and worried about the high COVID-19 case counts in Peel, he turned to the recently launched overnight clinics, lining up outside a Mississauga Shoppers Drug Mart at 1:15 a.m. Thursday. An hour later, he was vaccinated.

Sokoloski was one of 75 people who stood in the dark in the chilly April drizzle outside the pharmacy on Hurontario Street, some making small-talk with others in the queue as they anxiously awaited their sought-after first jab in a region ravaged by the pandemic.

Home to thousands of at-risk essential workers like Sokoloski, Peel Region continues to be hard-hit by COVID-19, with the highest positivity rate in the province at 14.5 per cent and 901 confirmed new cases as of Thursday. Even as case counts continue to climb, vaccine supply in the region has been inadequate, leaving front-line workers and their loved ones especially vulnerable to the virus.

“I’m just excited to hopefully be safer for work,” said Sokoloski, 45, after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. “I’m doing health screenings all day long for people. My girlfriend’s immunocompromised, so I’m scared of bringing the virus home to her.”

On Thursday, to help alleviate ICU hospitalizations and COVID deaths, the provincial government announced that 50 per cent of upcoming vaccine shipments will be dedicated to hot spot communities during the weeks of May 3 and May 10, bolstering vaccine supply to hard-hit neighbourhoods by over one million doses.

Select pharmacies — eight in Peel and eight in Toronto — will also begin administering the Pfizer vaccine to people aged 55 and up, who can book through the provincial registration system starting Friday. Currently, pharmacies are offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to people 40 and older (born in 1981 or before).

“The way out of the pandemic is vaccines, and the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott at a news conference Thursday.

Dr. Colin Furness, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said the announcement “feels like it’s a day late and a dollar short.” The province should have begun orienting COVID-19 interventions to meet Peel’s unique demographics and needs last April to prevent the “disastrous” result unfolding now, he said.

“I don’t want people thinking, ‘Well they’re getting the lion’s share of vaccines, so everything’s fine. We’ve taken care of them,’” he said, adding the province needs a multi-faceted approach to curb COVID-19 cases, with ramped-up testing and expanded mobile vaccination sites as necessary measures.

Vaccines are not medicine, or treatment, they’re preventative, he said. While the region can expect added vaccines to have a significant impact over the next couple months, cases will not plummet immediately after the introduction of additional vaccine supply, he said.

“You can’t just throw vaccines at a really hard-hit area and expect that to just work on its own. You’ll end up with a lot of sick vaccinated people.”

On April 20, the Ministry of Health announced 20 pharmacies in designated hot spot areas in Peel, York and Toronto would administer vaccines 24/7.

“Offering COVID-19 vaccines 24 hours/seven days per week will reach more Ontarians including essential workers who may be able to access vaccinations during their off-work hours,” a ministry spokesperson said Thursday. The province will expand 24/7 vaccination to additional hot spot areas when the province receives “more vaccine supply from the federal government,” the spokesperson added.

Catherine Thomas, a spokesperson for Loblaw Companies Ltd., said many of the participating Shoppers Drug Mart locations were already 24/7 locations before offering vaccines after midnight, while others have shifted their operations to provide options to patients unable to visit during regular operating hours, including essential workers.

“In an effort to help get shots in arms as quickly as possible, we believe expanding access to 24-hour sites, particularly focused on the communities hardest hit in this wave including north Toronto, Peel and Scarborough, will help protect more Ontarians, quickly,” she said.

Overnight pharmacies offer several advantages, Furness said. For one, people who don’t get time off work, or are not compensated for absences, can use the flexible hours to their benefit.

The queue outside Mohamed Elsabakhawi’s pharmacy in south-central Mississauga began forming at 10 p.m., Wednesday, with early-birds moving to a winding line near the cosmetics section inside the store. On the surface, the pharmacy was calm and organized, but there was no mistaking the late-night shoppers from the late-night vaccine seekers. The latter were anxious, restless and holding back optimism until the minute the jab was in their arm.

Many were essential workers.

As a contract-worker in the film industry, Pierre Branconnier, 49, had trouble booking a vaccine appointment at a convenient time. When a friend told him about overnight walk-ins, the Etobicoke resident made his way to Mississauga for a shot.

“I feel a little bit relieved and I guess anxious,” he said. “I just want to get it done. The project I was working on, we were tested quite often. But just the idea of getting the vaccination is just more of a relief, knowing that I’m more protected.”

Amber Yousaf, 41, drove to the Mississauga pharmacy from her home in Scarborough to snag a jab.

“As front-line workers, the vaccine is very essential and very useful for us,” the delivery house worker said. “I know it might have side effects, but taking it should be a first priority. I’m excited to be more protected.”

Hotel employee, Dora Enachescu, 51, lives around the corner from the pharmacy. As soon as she heard it was offering vaccines, she seized the opportunity. But she says she won’t feel really protected, or like her life is back to normal, until the second dose.

“I want to go outside. I want to take off this freaking mask that’s terrorizing me. I cannot do my manicures or get my makeup done. And I want to breathe normally,” she said. “But I want to live, I don’t want to die. So we stay in line to take a vaccine because every moment, every second of every day, our life is a priority.”

Others drove long distances; Christopher Janz, 51, made the five-hour trek from Ottawa and drove back the same night. The safety the vaccine offers is worth it, he said.

“I’m over 50, so I feel somewhat vulnerable and just wanted to be protected,” Janz said, explaining he couldn’t find a dose in his home city.

After the Twitter account Vaccine Hunters Canada began promoting vaccine availability at Elsabakhawi’s pharmacy, people flocked to the store from across the province. Over 40s came from Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Burlington, Etobicoke and Scarborough among others, he said.

The number of people showing up to be vaccinated between midnight and 8 a.m. has steadily increased since Elsabakhawi began offering overnight jabs at his pharmacy on April 22. The first night, just seven people chose a vaccine overnight. The next night, 25 people were in line. Then 36, then 64, then a record high of 75 on Thursday, the associate owner and pharmacist said. He received 900 doses to start, then an additional 500 a couple days later, totalling about 1,400 doses. By 1 p.m. Thursday, just 90 were left.

“Pharmacies are truly the front door of health care,” he said, adding the introduction of the overnight component means hundreds more people can be vaccinated weekly. “This is the value we can bring, specifically overnight. We can incrementally improve vaccination numbers, which will definitely help alleviate the burden we’re seeing in Peel.”

On the other end of the GTA, Shoppers Drug Mart associate owner and pharmacist Ali Rizwan, began offering shots from midnight to 8 a.m. on April 22, the same day as Elsabakhawi. His pharmacy on Morningside Avenue in Scarborough is delivering between 35 to 40 jabs per night, and will likely run out by Friday, Rizwan said Wednesday.

“It’s very important that we’re able to offer vaccines in an accessible way to all Ontarians,” he said. “On top of that ... time is the limiting factor for us all. We need to get injections into people’s arms as quickly as we can and this allows for that as well.”

A shot in the dark: Vaccine seekers in COVID-ravaged Peel Region rejoice at chance to get overnight jabs

News Apr 30, 2021 by Maria Sarrouh Toronto Star

Security guard Chris Sokoloski spent hours trying to book a daytime vaccine appointment at four different pharmacies this week. Unsuccessful, frustrated and worried about the high COVID-19 case counts in Peel, he turned to the recently launched overnight clinics, lining up outside a Mississauga Shoppers Drug Mart at 1:15 a.m. Thursday. An hour later, he was vaccinated.

Sokoloski was one of 75 people who stood in the dark in the chilly April drizzle outside the pharmacy on Hurontario Street, some making small-talk with others in the queue as they anxiously awaited their sought-after first jab in a region ravaged by the pandemic.

Home to thousands of at-risk essential workers like Sokoloski, Peel Region continues to be hard-hit by COVID-19, with the highest positivity rate in the province at 14.5 per cent and 901 confirmed new cases as of Thursday. Even as case counts continue to climb, vaccine supply in the region has been inadequate, leaving front-line workers and their loved ones especially vulnerable to the virus.

“I’m just excited to hopefully be safer for work,” said Sokoloski, 45, after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine. “I’m doing health screenings all day long for people. My girlfriend’s immunocompromised, so I’m scared of bringing the virus home to her.”

On Thursday, to help alleviate ICU hospitalizations and COVID deaths, the provincial government announced that 50 per cent of upcoming vaccine shipments will be dedicated to hot spot communities during the weeks of May 3 and May 10, bolstering vaccine supply to hard-hit neighbourhoods by over one million doses.

Select pharmacies — eight in Peel and eight in Toronto — will also begin administering the Pfizer vaccine to people aged 55 and up, who can book through the provincial registration system starting Friday. Currently, pharmacies are offering the AstraZeneca vaccine to people 40 and older (born in 1981 or before).

“The way out of the pandemic is vaccines, and the light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day,” said Health Minister Christine Elliott at a news conference Thursday.

Dr. Colin Furness, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said the announcement “feels like it’s a day late and a dollar short.” The province should have begun orienting COVID-19 interventions to meet Peel’s unique demographics and needs last April to prevent the “disastrous” result unfolding now, he said.

“I don’t want people thinking, ‘Well they’re getting the lion’s share of vaccines, so everything’s fine. We’ve taken care of them,’” he said, adding the province needs a multi-faceted approach to curb COVID-19 cases, with ramped-up testing and expanded mobile vaccination sites as necessary measures.

Vaccines are not medicine, or treatment, they’re preventative, he said. While the region can expect added vaccines to have a significant impact over the next couple months, cases will not plummet immediately after the introduction of additional vaccine supply, he said.

“You can’t just throw vaccines at a really hard-hit area and expect that to just work on its own. You’ll end up with a lot of sick vaccinated people.”

On April 20, the Ministry of Health announced 20 pharmacies in designated hot spot areas in Peel, York and Toronto would administer vaccines 24/7.

“Offering COVID-19 vaccines 24 hours/seven days per week will reach more Ontarians including essential workers who may be able to access vaccinations during their off-work hours,” a ministry spokesperson said Thursday. The province will expand 24/7 vaccination to additional hot spot areas when the province receives “more vaccine supply from the federal government,” the spokesperson added.

Catherine Thomas, a spokesperson for Loblaw Companies Ltd., said many of the participating Shoppers Drug Mart locations were already 24/7 locations before offering vaccines after midnight, while others have shifted their operations to provide options to patients unable to visit during regular operating hours, including essential workers.

“In an effort to help get shots in arms as quickly as possible, we believe expanding access to 24-hour sites, particularly focused on the communities hardest hit in this wave including north Toronto, Peel and Scarborough, will help protect more Ontarians, quickly,” she said.

Overnight pharmacies offer several advantages, Furness said. For one, people who don’t get time off work, or are not compensated for absences, can use the flexible hours to their benefit.

The queue outside Mohamed Elsabakhawi’s pharmacy in south-central Mississauga began forming at 10 p.m., Wednesday, with early-birds moving to a winding line near the cosmetics section inside the store. On the surface, the pharmacy was calm and organized, but there was no mistaking the late-night shoppers from the late-night vaccine seekers. The latter were anxious, restless and holding back optimism until the minute the jab was in their arm.

Many were essential workers.

As a contract-worker in the film industry, Pierre Branconnier, 49, had trouble booking a vaccine appointment at a convenient time. When a friend told him about overnight walk-ins, the Etobicoke resident made his way to Mississauga for a shot.

“I feel a little bit relieved and I guess anxious,” he said. “I just want to get it done. The project I was working on, we were tested quite often. But just the idea of getting the vaccination is just more of a relief, knowing that I’m more protected.”

Amber Yousaf, 41, drove to the Mississauga pharmacy from her home in Scarborough to snag a jab.

“As front-line workers, the vaccine is very essential and very useful for us,” the delivery house worker said. “I know it might have side effects, but taking it should be a first priority. I’m excited to be more protected.”

Hotel employee, Dora Enachescu, 51, lives around the corner from the pharmacy. As soon as she heard it was offering vaccines, she seized the opportunity. But she says she won’t feel really protected, or like her life is back to normal, until the second dose.

“I want to go outside. I want to take off this freaking mask that’s terrorizing me. I cannot do my manicures or get my makeup done. And I want to breathe normally,” she said. “But I want to live, I don’t want to die. So we stay in line to take a vaccine because every moment, every second of every day, our life is a priority.”

Others drove long distances; Christopher Janz, 51, made the five-hour trek from Ottawa and drove back the same night. The safety the vaccine offers is worth it, he said.

“I’m over 50, so I feel somewhat vulnerable and just wanted to be protected,” Janz said, explaining he couldn’t find a dose in his home city.

After the Twitter account Vaccine Hunters Canada began promoting vaccine availability at Elsabakhawi’s pharmacy, people flocked to the store from across the province. Over 40s came from Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, Hamilton, Burlington, Etobicoke and Scarborough among others, he said.

The number of people showing up to be vaccinated between midnight and 8 a.m. has steadily increased since Elsabakhawi began offering overnight jabs at his pharmacy on April 22. The first night, just seven people chose a vaccine overnight. The next night, 25 people were in line. Then 36, then 64, then a record high of 75 on Thursday, the associate owner and pharmacist said. He received 900 doses to start, then an additional 500 a couple days later, totalling about 1,400 doses. By 1 p.m. Thursday, just 90 were left.

“Pharmacies are truly the front door of health care,” he said, adding the introduction of the overnight component means hundreds more people can be vaccinated weekly. “This is the value we can bring, specifically overnight. We can incrementally improve vaccination numbers, which will definitely help alleviate the burden we’re seeing in Peel.”

On the other end of the GTA, Shoppers Drug Mart associate owner and pharmacist Ali Rizwan, began offering shots from midnight to 8 a.m. on April 22, the same day as Elsabakhawi. His pharmacy on Morningside Avenue in Scarborough is delivering between 35 to 40 jabs per night, and will likely run out by Friday, Rizwan said Wednesday.

“It’s very important that we’re able to offer vaccines in an accessible way to all Ontarians,” he said. “On top of that ... time is the limiting factor for us all. We need to get injections into people’s arms as quickly as we can and this allows for that as well.”